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A closer look at the origins of Groundhog Day

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By Chris St. Clair
Weather Broadcaster
Friday, January 31, 2014, 7:08 AM

Rodents don’t really predict the weather, but, there is one day a year when we cast aside science and rely on a Groundhog to do just that. February 2 is Groundhog Day.

We can trace the modern origins of Groundhog Day back to Pennsylvanian Germans in the 18th century who celebrated a bit European weather lore that suggested a badger or bear would emerge from its winter lair to prognosticate the weather. This notion is similar to the Pagan Imbolc festival which is the turning point of the winter season on the ancient Celtic calendar.

The earliest reference to Groundhog Day comes from a storekeeper in Berks County Pennsylvania on February 4, 1841. James Morris wrote that February 2 was Candlemas Day, celebrated by local Germans who waited to see if groundhogs would appear from their burrows. If the animals saw their shadows, they would retreat for a six week nap, but "if the day be cloudy, they remain out, as the weather is to be moderate."

WHO'S SICK OF WINTER? 75 percent of Canadians have had enough

There is some scientific reality in all of this fun.

In the northern hemisphere, the first official day of Spring, the equinox, is always 46 to 48 days after Groundhog Day. February 2 is also a time when we really begin notice that the sun is making significant inroads against the darkness of winter.

The Groundhog seems to be the arbitrator in how much more winter we will enjoy or endure (depending on personal perspective). Groundhog purists say that the rodent is correct in its prediction more than 75% of the time. A study of 13 Canadian cities over the past 35 years reveals that the prevailing weather patterns gave the Groundhog a success rate of 37%.

In Canada, our presiding groundhog is Wiarton Willie, he and his relatives have been providing predictions since 1956. The festival in Wiarton, Ontario attracts over ten thousand people and has been named one of the provinces best festivals!

The Weather Network's Chris Murphy will be in Wiarton, Ontario this weekend with the verdict from Wiarton Willie. He's also got his own spin on the February 2 holiday so be sure to tune into The Weather Network on TV to see what he's got up his sleeve.

More by this author
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